At the age of just 12, Jerry Schilling met someone who would change his life. It was a Sunday afternoon and he was recruited to play with a young singer by the name of Elvis Presley who’d just laid down his first recording.
“He wanted to play, but they only had five people, so they let the little kid play – that was me,” says the 74-year-old music industry veteran from his West Hollywood home, the same one Elvis bought him back in the 1970s.
“He’d recorded a record [‘That’s All Right’] and by the next week it had become a huge hit in Memphis. We still played football every Sunday. I thought I’d be out because everybody wanted to play then.”
The friendship endured and, when Jerry was in his senior year of college, Elvis asked if he would work for him as part of a close, trusted group that would become known as the Memphis Mafia. “He really knew human nature,” says Schilling. “He really wanted people around that he trusted and luckily I was one of those people. The people who worked for him – who handled his money or his security – we all lived together. We were the original entourage, if you like.
Jerry Schilling was just 12 when he met Elvis Presley
“He was the guy we worked for, but it wasn’t that kind of relationship. We were like a big group of dear friends. A lot of the time it was us against the world, because people forget in those early days Elvis wasn’t liked by everybody. Politicians, religious leaders… They didn’t like the controversy. He made Justin Bieber look like a baby.”
Then, of course, there were the encounters with other celebrities: the Beatles spent time at Elvis's home, the gang would hang out with Sammy Davis Jnr in Vegas, and Schilling was with him when Elvis offered to swap pants with the members of Led Zeppelin. Perhaps the most extraordinary experience, however, occurred in 1970 when Schilling accompanied Elvis to the White House to meet Richard Nixon.
“It was bizarre in a way, but in another way it was a true American story. He was a poor boy from Mississippi, who moved to Memphis, with his roots in the projects, who went on to become one of the most – if not the most – popular guys in the world. And he met his President. To be honest I was more of a Kennedy guy, so I wasn’t that thrilled about meeting Nixon until I met him. And I’ve gotta tell you I saw two guys who were at the top and they were the only ones who know what it’s like to be in that powerful position.”
Eventually, in 1976, with Elvis on a path of self-destruction, Schilling left to manage the Beach Boys. He visited Australia a couple of times on tour with them, then again in 1976 when he was managing Billy Joel and the singer performed at the Sydney Opera House.
If possible he’d like to visit again this year, when a new concert, Elvis: The Wonder of You, tours Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane. Incorporating state-of-the-art screens, the music of Elvis and a 40-piece symphony orchestra it will give fans, old and new, the chance to ‘see’ the King perform 40 years after his death. “Last week I had dinner with Priscilla, who was introducing the show [in the UK],” says Schilling, who continues to work with Elvis Presley Enterprises. “She said it’s just amazing; you get chill bumps. It’s a dream come true for Elvis’s memory.”
Elvis: The Wonder of You is touring Australia in May and June with two new shows announced for Sydney and Melbourne. Information and tickets are available at the Elvis Live website.
The giveaway to win tickets to the show has ended.
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